Iceland's pulsating 3-1 victory against Denmark in Aalborg was not enough to earn them a semi-final spot as both teams were eliminated from the UEFA European Under-21 Championship.
After successive defeats, Iceland needed a 3-0 win and Switzerland to beat Belarus by the same score to progress. The improbable became possible when Kolbeinn Sigthórsson and Birkir Bjarnason scored in the second half for Eyjólfur Sverrisson's side and Switzerland led 2-0, yet Bashkim Kadrii's goal left Denmark requiring one more themselves to qualify.
The hosts threw everything at Iceland, but when the fourth goal came it was from the boot of Hjörtur Valgardsson. There was another late twist as Switzerland scored a third in Aarhus, although it changed little as Belarus (+1) advanced in second place on goal difference in a three-way tie with Iceland (0) and Denmark (-1).
The slick surface caused by the driving rain made defending difficult and as a consequence added to the excitement, with both rearguards under threat during a lively first half. Christian Eriksen had already created a half-chance for Mathias Zanka Jørgensen, who headed a free-kick wide, before forcing Haraldur Björnsson into two smart stops at his near post from the left and right boot of the AFC Ajax playmaker.
Visiting coach Sverrisson was again able to call on Aron Gunnarsson and Johann Gudmundsson after suspension and injury respectively, but also handed Bjarnason a first start after two impressive substitute appearances. The barrel-chested No6 went close to rewarding that faith with a 16th-minute half-volley on the turn that drew gasps from the sell-out crowd, yet did not ruffle Mikkel Andersen.
Four minutes later the goalkeeper made the save of the tournament. Eggert Jónsson nodded Gylfi Sigurdsson's free-kick against Zanka's shoulder, and the ball was already past Andersen and one metre from an empty net when he somehow got a palm to the ball and flicked it over the bar. It was unfortunate for Denmark that Nicki Bille Nielsen did not show such technique at the other end just after the half-hour, clipping Daniel Wass's perfect ball agonisingly wide of the post with just Björnsson to beat from close to the penalty spot.
Ten minutes after half-time Andersen proved the scourge of Iceland again, making a flying stop to tip over Valgardsson's rising drive from outside the box. In the 58th minute Iceland finally broke through, Bjarnason's cross-cum-shot flicked in at the near post by Sigthórsson under pressure from Andersen and a defender.
Bjarnason doubled the lead two minutes later, his flying header at the far post the perfect complement to Sigurdsson's excellent cross. Sigthórsson shot against the upright as Iceland chased an all-important third goal, while numerous opportunities came and went at the other end – Kadrii smashing one against the woodwork, and both Zanka and Nicolai Jørgensen scuffing wide when a cool head was required.
Kadrii had the home fans on their feet by halving the deficit in the 81st minute by nodding in Kasper Povlsen's cross. The equaliser never arrived, with Valgardsson instead having the final say by driving forward and beating Andersen with a curling shot from outside the box. Players from both teams sunk to the floor at the final whistle, no doubt in exhaustion as well as disappointment.